BOS Votes to Retain Rec Department and Four Firefighters’ Positions

September 26, 2014
 by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

A proposal to eliminate the recreation department and cut four firefighters from the force has been extinguished by selectmen during final budget votes.

An amendment by Selectman Everett McBride passed without discussion to add back $376,437 to the department’s fire supplies and protection budget.  The funds will be used for four firefighters’ positions, which were recommended to be cut by Town Manager Keith Hickey, seeking to meet the board’s request of no more than a one-percent tax rate increase.

During the original budget proposal earlier this month, the board made known a desire to save the positions and seek savings elsewhere.

Another proposed cut, eliminating the entire recreation department, was reversed, when the board voted $229,052 for the department.

But multiple reductions were discussed before the budgets were passed by the board.

Selectman Stephen Campbell sought to eliminate the fire marshal from the department, citing the increasing cost for the position and the number of senior management personnel.

Campbell said the police department is staffed around the clock and operates with three senior management positions but the fire department has four.

“This is what one position’s costing us,” he said after moving to cut $153,598.  “It’s the personnel cost that makes up the lion’s share of the operating budget.”

Fire Chief Kevin Breen explained the importance of the position, including some of the marshal’s tasks.

Breen said the fire marshal is in charge of the fire prevention bureau, the code expert, and reviews plans among many other roles.

“I don’t know when we have not had someone in charge of the fire prevention bureau,” Breen said.

The motion failed one-to-four with Campbell in the minority.

Campbell also proposed eliminating the administrative assistant, saying the position could soon cost the town over $100,000.

Breen said the administrative assistant was one of only two support staff members in the department.  Responsibilities included payroll, answering calls, and handling information among many duties.  He said the position has been full time since the sixties.

The motion also failed the board.

Multiple reductions to the recreation department however were supported by selectmen.

Campbell proposed eliminating the program coordinator position at over $12,000, saying previously the position was filled by an intern and said that practice should continue, and the board agreed.

Six thousand five hundred dollars was eliminated from temporary staff with Campbell citing lifeguards didn’t work on days of poor weather at Hedgehog Park.

A proposal by McBride to reduce $1,000 from postage and supplies was also approved by the board, encouraging the department to deliver information digitally.

But a proposal by Campbell to cut $27,620 from the budget didn’t sit well with some board members.

The funds, which are part of the administrative assistant’s salary, would limit the position to 25 hours per week year around.  Currently extra hours are added during the summer when a majority of activates are in progress.

“Jeanine is the backbone of the recreation department,” said Recreation Director Chris Dillon.  “Jeanine does everything.”

Dillon said the position manages over 30 employees’ payroll during the year, along with processing registrations and many other essential services.

“The recreation department cannot function without that support staff,” Hickey added.

Selectman James Keller suggested hiring interns to help with the workload if hours were reduced.  McBride said there would still be a cost for interns in the department.

Chairman Patrick Hargreaves felt the cut would be detrimental to the department.

“I know the lady, she works harder than anyone I know,” he said.  “She does a lot of work.  Nobody sees what she does.”

Hargreaves feared the reduction in hours to the position would mean a loss of benefits, potentially forcing the staff member to seek employment elsewhere.

The proposal failed the board two to three with Campbell and Keller in the minority.

The board also added back $47,000 to the operating budget to cover the subscription to C.A.R.T. service.

The proposed budget will move to the Budget Committee for review before heading to the ballot in March.